This small startup wants to be the 'Amazon of the next ten years' when it comes to ebooks

OysterEric Stromberg (cofounder and CEO), Willem Van Lancker (cofounder and CPO), Andrew Brown (cofounder and CTO)

A small startup is taking a huge swing at Amazon.

The e-book subscription service Oyster — often referred to as the “Netflix for books” because it offers an unlimited reading plan for $US9.95 a month — is opening a new store for one-off purchases.

The startup has signed on all of the “Big Five” publishers as well as a bunch of smaller houses, bringing hundreds of thousands of new books to the selection of 1 million titles it currently had available only for subscription download.

“Amazon paved the way in ebooks,” cofounder Willem Van Lancker told Business Insider. “We want to be the Amazon of the next ten years. We want to build the company that takes ebooks into the next wave.”

Amazon has dominated the ebook space for a long time — it controls more than a third of the overall book trade in the United State and started selling more digital books than print copies per year way back in 2011. The company also launched its own $US9.99 all-you-can subscription service last July, though it still only offers 700,000 titles, about 300,000 less than Oyster.

The startup thinks its new ebook store can stand out, though, thanks to the site’s gorgeous overall design and its bevy of unique, curated lists, like “10 larger-than-life pop culture bios.”

Also, potentially, thanks to its relationship with publishers.

“Since the launch of its subscription service in September 2013, Oyster has shown itself to be an innovative player in the ebook market,” HarperCollins Chief Digital Officer Chantal Restivo-Alessi says in Oyster’s press release. “HarperCollins looks forward to growing its relationship with Oyster as it expands the choices it offers consumers.”

This glowing support feels particularly significant given Business Insider’s report last week that the contract between Amazon and HarperCollins will soon expire, and that the publisher is refusing to sign an agreement with the new terms that Amazon is offering. A source with knowledge of the situation said that all print and digital HarperCollins books will be pulled from Amazon if a deal isn’t reached. If Oyster’s ebook selection can indeed trump Amazon’s, the startup’s offering becomes much more intriguing.

In the subscription model, Oyster pays publishers a fee every time a reader makes it through more than a certain percentage of any book. With its new store, publishers will get a cut of every sale and Oyster says its prices will be competitive. Although Oyster declined to say how many people had signed up for its subscription service since the company launched in September 2013, its “large and growing user base” currently reads over 100 million pages each month.

Oyster is the brainchild of Van Lancker, formerly a Google user experience designer and now Chief Product Officer, Eric Stromberg, formerly a product manager at eBay and now CEO, and Andrew Brown, formerly an ads product manager at Google and now CTO. Van Lancker and Stromberg first met at Harvard Business School, where they hit it off so much that they eventually decided to ditch grad school and start a company together. Brown and Stromberg had been college buddies. Their New York City-based company now has about 30 employees and has raised $US17 million in total funding.

“To date, the ebook retail experience has been about efficiency,” Van Lancker says. “There’s a search bar on Amazon, and others where you know the book you want and you go and find it. As Amazon thinks about most businesses, it’s akin to a warehouse. It’s that model of efficiency, but there’s isn’t the beauty, the design, and the discovery. We really built Oyster as a book store.”

Ultimately, he says, Oyster wants to be the “most creative and interesting company in books.”

Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.

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